PHUKET TOWN: The Governor of Phuket admitted yesterday that he feels like a ping-pong player when dealing with illegal Burmese workers, who are expelled one day only to return the next. Speaking at the mass expulsion of 305 illegal Burmese workers caught in Immigration Police raids between February 27 and March 1, Gov Pongpayome Vasaputi said, “It makes me feel like a ping-pong player. But we will continue the raids and, if necessary, we’ll contact the Royal Thai Police and the Ministry of Interior for further assistance.” In addition to the 305 Burmese, eight Thais were also arrested for employing, sheltering, or helping illegal laborers. Pol Col Apirak Hongtong, superintendent of the Phuket Immigration Office, said, “This time, we coordinated the raids with officers from the Border Patrol Police Bureau. Most of the arrests were made in temporary housing in rubber plantations and at construction camps.” Although several successful raids have been made in the past few months, Col Apirak told the Gazette, “I recognize some of the faces. We know that many of them have returned [after being expelled].” This was confirmed by two of the Burmese in conversations with Gov Pongpayome just before the illegals departed for Ranong at 11 am yesterday. Hwan, 37, told the Governor that this was the third time he had been caught. “I was sent to Ranong twice and both times the agent brought me back for 2,200 baht a trip. “Immigration at Ranong sent us out on a longtail boat, but the boat didn’t go to Koh Song in Burma. Instead, it turned round and went to another pier in Ranong.” A Burmese woman, Ann, 23, told the Governor about her first return trip. “We hid in a plantation and waited until 2 or 3 in the morning, then walked out of the jungle to where a truck was waiting. “On the way, whenever the truck approached a police checkpoint, the people in front would hit the side of the truck with a piece of wood. That was the signal for everyone to sit down and pull a cover over the back of the truck. “She said she paid 3,500 baht to get back to Phuket. An exasperated Gov Pongpayome said, “What should I say about Ranong? I am not authorized to control officers there. I’ve sent two letters to the Governor of Ranong, asking for cooperation from him and from the Immigration Police there, but I haven’t had a reply. I will give him a call today.” As the truck left, a Burmese worker waved to the officers, the press, and the Governor. “See you tomorrow,” he grinned.
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